A Triumphant Trio in Portland, Plus Three from the Past

Last month, I made an overnight trip to Portland primarily to have dinner at a Russian restaurant, which would turn into one of my most memorable meals of the year. The whole weekend was actually full of good food, as I enjoyed two other new-to-me restaurants, while hitting old favorites HA+VL and Tanuki.

First up was brunch at Navarre. Bread here is a must, and it comes with several options. French butter was my choice, but there are also a couple of olive oils and homemade jam, though you might want to save some bread to sop up sauces from the dishes that follow. You fill out your menu scorecard at the table before handing it to your server (another point of interest: get your own coffee/tea at the counter). Be sure to focus on a few of the Lebanese specials, though the whole menu is interesting at this European-focused restaurant.

Braised lamb with red wine and orange juice at Navarre (my favorite dish, making me want to order more bread to scoop up every last drop)

Braised lamb with red wine and orange juice at Navarre (my favorite dish, making me want to order more bread to scoop up every last drop)

Navarre's potato gratin

Navarre’s potato gratin

Trout with eggs, fennel, and Hollandaise

Trout with eggs, fennel, and Hollandaise

Navarre's walnut-stuffed prunes with pomegranate sauce (rich and delicious)

Navarre’s walnut-stuffed prunes with pomegranate sauce (rich and delicious)

Next, another brunch, this time at Cafe Castagna. As the menu is Middle Eastern, be prepared for dishes that feature interesting ingredients and “unusual” spicing. Quality is high, as you’d expect from a Castagna experience.

Doughnuts with cardamom and apple at Cafe Castagna (surprisingly "light")

Doughnuts with cardamom and apple at Cafe Castagna (surprisingly “light”)

Bacon, lamb sausage, and onion frittata at Cafe Castagna (with a Christmas-like topping of pomegranates and parsley)

Bacon, lamb sausage, and onion frittata at Cafe Castagna (with a Christmas-like topping of pomegranates and parsley)

Seared beets with tahini

Seared beets with tahini

Schmaltz-roasted potato, sunchoke, quince, and creme fraiche

Schmaltz-roasted potato, sunchoke, quince, and creme fraiche

Shakshuka (tomato, chile, goat feta, egg) with sujuk (dried sausage) added (I like Tasty n Son's version better, but this was still delicious)

Shakshuka (tomato, chile, goat feta, egg) with sujuk (dried sausage) added (I like Tasty n Son’s version better, but this was still delicious)

Cafe Castagna's malawich (a buttery bread to shatters with each bite) with tomato sauce, zhoug (a spicy herbal relish), and hard-boiled egg

Cafe Castagna’s malawich (a buttery bread to shatters with each bite) with tomato sauce, zhoug (a spicy herbal relish), and hard-boiled egg

The final meal of the overnight trip was at Kachka. This Russian restaurant wowed me with its sandwich at Feast Portland earlier in the year, and would provide a fascinating dinner that ranks as one of the most memorable meals I ate in 2014. My small group of four explored the menu, sampling from the cold and hot zakuski, dumplings, mains, and pickles (& things). We even sampled a vodka flight, though I’d recommend trying the infused vodkas if you’re not an enthusiast. (The horseradish vodka was fascinating.) Here are the photos, with apologies for the poor lighting (appropriate to the atmosphere, which was fun without being kitschy…and I should add that the service is informative and attentive).

Kachka's "herring under a fur coat"--a 7-layer dip, but Russian, with herring, potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, mayo, and eggs (I'll be making this at home soon)

Kachka’s “herring under a fur coat”–a 7-layer dip, but Russian, with herring, potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, mayo, and eggs (I’ll be making this at home soon)

Kachka's Baltic sprat buterbrodi: smoked fish and parsley mayo on pumpernickel toast

Kachka’s Baltic sprat buterbrodi: smoked fish and parsley mayo on pumpernickel toast

Siberian pelmeni (boiled) with beef, pork, veal, and onion (and smetana in butter below)

Siberian pelmeni (boiled) with beef, pork, veal, and onion (and smetana in butter below)

Sauerkraut and pickled plums

Sauerkraut and pickled plums

Salo: cured fatback with Israeli pickles and honey to the right, and mustard, garlic, and coriander to the left (sweet or sour!)

Salo: cured fatback with Israeli pickles and honey to the right, and mustard, garlic, and coriander to the left (sweet or sour!)

Kachka's stroganoff with beef tongue, egg noodles, mushroom and cognac smetana sauce

Kachka’s stroganoff with beef tongue, egg noodles, mushroom and cognac smetana sauce

Pumpkin dolma with lamb shoulder, cinnamon, sour cherry, mint, and rice...roasted inside "heart of gold" squash

Pumpkin dolma with lamb shoulder, cinnamon, sour cherry, mint, and rice…roasted inside “heart of gold” squash

Sour cherry vareniki (marrying Ukranian tradition with Oregon sour cherries) pan-fried for best flavor, and perfect for dessert at Kachka

Sour cherry vareniki (marrying Ukranian tradition with Oregon sour cherries) pan-fried for best flavor, and perfect for dessert at Kachka

Catching up on a couple of quests from previous visits…I finally made it to Apizza Scholls to sample the much-lauded pizza. My group went about 25 minutes pre-opening to ensure immediate seating, and it was a good thing we didn’t arrive much later. In the midst of a big food weekend (Whiskey Soda Lounge would follow), we ordered two pizzas. Definitely high quality (I recall that I especially liked the crust), but I still like DiFara (in Brooklyn) best, and would place Pizzeria Bianco (in Phoenix) above it as well.

The must-try margherita pie at Apizza Scholls...must-try in that it's classic, though I think my must-try may shift to a plain (cheese) pie to compare to my New York taste

The must-try margherita pie at Apizza Scholls…must-try in that it’s classic, though I think my must-try may shift to a plain (cheese) pie to compare to my New York taste

New York white pie: mozzarella (whole milk & fresh), pecorino romano/grana padano, ricotta, lots of fresh garlic, herbs, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil (reinforced my feeling that I like red sauce pies more than whites)

New York white pie: mozzarella (whole milk & fresh), pecorino romano/grana padano, ricotta, lots of fresh garlic, herbs, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil (reinforced my feeling that I like red sauce pies more than whites)

Finally, I did a two-part dinner one night while driving through Portland in search of quality boat noodle soup. This dish doesn’t really exist in Seattle, and I was hoping to find something equivalent to what I’ve had at Sapp Coffee Shop in Los Angeles. First stop would be at Sen Yai, Andy Ricker’s noodle joint. Here you can get a variety of noodles either stir-fried or in soup. Ingredient quality is high, such that the broth is refined and delicious. But no offal in the soup, as one of the workers told me that something like pork blood “just wouldn’t sell.”

Boat noodle soup at Sen Yai (I naturally went for wide noodles!)

Boat noodle soup at Sen Yai (I naturally went for wide noodles!)

Later that night, I hit Mekong Bistro for their version of boat noodle soup. Not surprisingly, the price at Mekong was cheaper ($8 vs. $11), and my soup would happily contain both tripe and pork blood pieces. This Cambodian restaurant has a rather expansive menu with more items (soup noodles and otherwise) I’d like to try someday.

Mekong Bistro's boat noodle soup

Mekong Bistro’s boat noodle soup

Fried quail at Mekong Bistro

Fried quail at Mekong Bistro

Navarre on Urbanspoon

Cafe Castagna on Urbanspoon

Kachka on Urbanspoon

Apizza Scholls on Urbanspoon

Sen Yai on Urbanspoon

Mekong Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tags:

#ApizzaScholls
,
#CafeCastagna
,
#Kachka
,
#MekongBistro
,
#Navarre
,
#SenYai

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply